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learning from toddlers

Learning from Toddlers

My daughter Zola’s teacher asked me to come to her class and teach the kids about yoga. I didn’t hesitate, because I LOVE to show yoga to anyone who asks. Just talking (and writing) about it is a thrill.

I began by asking my friends who teach yoga, what should I do with kids. I knew that my lesson wasn’t going to be about achieving a perfect pose, but instead about getting them to move. I also wanted to make it fun and something they would be excited to talk about later. My yoga friends agreed, and I went to work.

I wrote a little story that the children and I could act out with various simple yoga poses. We focused on Nature. The smell of earth and the feel of the sun. We began as trees in the woods. Then along came a breeze, which got stronger and toppled us over. Then we became cats smelling and moving in woods and then morphed into cows mooing in the woods. Then the cows saw dogs running in the woods. The dogs were running from a pride of lions. The lions were distracted by some birds that were flying away from some snakes. We went through all the poses: tree, cat, cow, dog, lion breath, bird and cobra.

I think the kids enjoyed it — they were smiling and listening and excited.

But, I think I got more out of it because they were such great teachers.

So, what did I learn?

For one, I know that in my yoga asana, I tend to hold myself stiff, using a lot of muscular energy. These kids were all about organic energy. They are just little balls of energy. They fell and laughed and tried again and again. It was quite fun to watch—I wish I could have watched more.

But, what they did to me is amazing. I had my own class after this little session, and I let go of the muscular energy and surrendered to the organic energy ENTIRELY.

Know what I found? Places in my body where I needed to let go and surrender and other places where I needed to be stronger. By letting go, I realized where I needed to be stronger. It was such an ah-ha moment for me.

What else did I learn?

Joy. Yoga is about finding joy. It’s not about finding the perfect pose and looking perfect. It’s about finding that place where joy and a smile come across your face. Where you are at peace. These kids were all about peace and joy. It was pretty cool.

So, a short 15-minute yoga demo to a group of toddlers ended up being an enlightening experience for me that I will work to remember the next time I need to let go!

Facing fear… fighting back

I have always been a very cautious and practical person. It’s not my nature to run into things full bore without having a plan in place. I always looked at this as being fearful. Fear of failure.

During yoga, I find myself coming back to that feeling. Fear of failure. So, I try that handstand, but I can’t get up. It’s not so much what others think of me, but what I think of myself. I can get into that self-loathing place quickly. That fear keeps me from trying or pushing myself forward.

Then, the question becomes: How can I ask my Sherpa clients to be fearless if I cannot do it myself? That’s a really good question. What can I do to face my fears? Another good question. One way I have faced my fears is to fully embrace the Database Sherpa model, to the point of being a little nutty about it (if you meet me, be prepared to hear about it!). Another thing I’ve done is to hire a company — DVQ Studio — to help me brand and develop the model (more will be unveiled as it is developed). Finally, my good friend, Veronica Waters, is now an advisor to this work. So, I’ve put my reputation, money and friendship on the line.Why? Because, I’m not going to hide from my fear anymore, I’m facing it head on! Is the fear gone? No! I see it from time to time, visiting me again and again. I let it sit for a bit and then blow it away. Goodbye for now, I’m sure you’ll be back!

This way of fighting back is a process, but one that will better equip me to help the Sherpa clients fight their fears. And it’s already working on changing me and how I work with my Sherpa clients. The most current Sherpa project brought me to the place of learning about resources available to use after the project ends. This particular client was given specific work to accomplish using the Google Group, to find answers to very specific questions. They were tentative and fearful at first, but I explained that I only wanted them to look and find. So, with that knowledge, they faced their fear of the unknown.

After visiting the Google Group and finding the answers, they looked around further (you know how that happens when you are searching on the Internet). What they got was so much more than mere answers to questions (which had been my hope). At one point in our conversation one of them voiced, “I could even answer some questions.” My immediate response was, “go ahead and respond next time; see what happens.” She giggled with delight at that suggestion and said, “oh, now I get it – I can get involved and help too. They need me and my time as well.” Now, she faced her fear, saw what she could do and now feels empowered to do something about it. WOW, that was pretty awesome.

With the support of my good friends at DVQ Studio and my special advisor, Veronica Waters, my confidence level has been given a boost and I feel like a better Sherpa.

Who knows what will come next?!

Practicing Compassion

Being a database consultant has given me the opportunity to see organizational change up close. Change can be very difficult for the individual, which, in turn, can greatly impact the organization. I’ve been advocating for a fundamental change in consulting that will incorporate yoga principles with database development. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I intend to share my thoughts on how this weaving might work best.

Most recently, in my yoga class, my mind wandered (what else is new) and I realize that if someone took a snapshot of our room during a specific pose, it would look like a picture of my ballet recital when I was three years old. We’d all be expressing the pose in our own way. That’s the beauty of the practice of yoga. Expressing your uniqueness is not wrong, it’s beautiful. Why? Because each person is in their own place in their practice. But, we all come together. Work together. Support each other. How wonderful and spectacular.

My dream is we could see this about database development as well. Your organizational readiness for a database is not necessarily going to be the same as another organizations. Just because you hear that an organization is using a donor database or Salesforce.com, doesn’t mean the database will work for you. Heck, a DATABASE might not work for you at all… (oops, did I say that?!) Okay, I’ll say it again:

no database
NO DATABASE

Isn’t there a saying:

“you are perfect just the way you are”

Maybe, just maybe, there is a case for keeping your systems the way they are, no change. In my experience, before you jump into the pool with everyone else, ask yourself these two simple questions:

  • Will this database be created because I need to measure or do something required by someone else? For example, if you find that your main reason for creating the database is because a funder has asked you to report on a specific data point regarding your clients, then it is the outside force that is driving the decision to create the database. It might be just as easy to modify an existing spreadsheet to collect those data points rather creating a database which is being driven because of this funder (an outside force). Outside forces drive the decision.
  • Will this database be used to track specific requirements to help with making decisions about my organization or help me with the operations of the organization? For example, your organization is trying to make a strategic decision about the individuals whom you serve. Your existing system of collecting data doesn’t provide the information needed to make these key decisions that will drive programming and volunteer needs. Decisions come from within.

Do you see the key here? It has to do with whether the decision is coming from inside or outside. It’s much better to allow systems to grow organically, through critical thinking and decision making. Growing from the inside and making decisions based on actual need will make for the best systems – those that are embraced by everyone in the organization. These systems will succeed and thrive.

If you see an organization with a database (donor, client management, etc.), don’t presume that you need one too (remember, those outside forces?!). Like, when I look my neighbor who can get into a headstand in the middle of the room. I look in admiration at the skill and ability of this yogi. I don’t attempt to do a headstand in the middle of the room (okay, maybe I do, once, but then never again…). Seriously, the outside force doesn’t get me to do the headstand, instead, it was my body telling me “I’m ready”. You’ve got to be willing to listen to your organization to hear “I’m ready” — because my decisions are coming from within.

Don’t look at your peers who have a highly functional database with jealousy. Realize that they worked hard to get there. Appreciate where they came from and where they are now. Look at them with admiration and love! Yes, with LOVE, this is the compassionate sector, right?!

Change your organization from the inside with love, appreciation and admiration for yourself and your peer organizations. That’s the only true way change can be embraced in your organization.

Facebook

Facebook changes .. welcome to the cloud

I’ve been leaving my blog for the work that I’m doing related to databases, but I’ve seen something that has made me wonder… hmmmm… we’re going to have to get used to change with technology. It seems, every time Facebook makes a major upgrade or “improvement” to their system, a lot of my friends get really upset. I see things like, “why change a good thing” or “just when I was getting used to the system” or “it’s doing something new that it didn’t do before”. Then, a period of time passes. The new becomes old. And, it changes again! Oh my, how could they change it?!

Well, I guess with my yogic mentality, I think change keeps us awake and less likely to accept the norm. But, as I understand it, change is not easy (although, for some reason, I actually like change. Keeps me feeling alive, but I’m a strange bird, I realize that after a few years of therapy). Most will tell me, change for the sake of change isn’t worth it, but I say, why not. It’s good to change it up a bit. Look at this in a new light with a new lens. It’s how we can make sure we don’t accept the norms in society.

Anyway, this really isn’t a post about change, it’s a post about the new features in Facebook that I’ve been looking forward to. Finally, a way to keep my friends closer and my acquaintances… well, not farther, just less noise on my Facebook wall. This means I can have more friends and still be able to see my close friends’ posts.

Most of this stuff you’ll see here can be found under the arrow on the very right side (next to the Home link). Click on Privacy Settings to see these options.

One thing I like, that was actually something released earlier, is that I can control the tags in which I appear. I think this is a fantastic setting that allows me to make sure I’m really in a picture or that I want to be tagged in a post. This can be found in the section How Tags Work. I have turned off the Tag Suggestions and the Check In functions entirely.

The privacy and security of Facebook has really come a long way. I’m very happy with how certain posts can be hidden or shown to certain friends. I also like how I can control my posts so that only my friend can see the post and not friends of friends. This is a wonderful feature that helps me to keep things for just my friends. This Facebook FAQ does a pretty good job of explaining it (that would be my one complaint, the lack of good help in Facebook). Anyway, there is also a setting for under How You Connect where you can lock down things even further. For example, I have it set so that only my friend can look me up by name, can send me Facebook messages, can post on my wall and can see wall posts by others on my profile. Only friends of friends can send me friend requests. I like that feature a lot. Why let anyone send me requests?!

This page does a pretty good job of explaining the latest changes. I say pretty good as it’s not the best and quite short without any screenshots. Read carefully, it’s not well written.

I think the privacy controls settings and such are fantastic. I have been keeping Facebook as a friends only place for so long and removing “friends” from time to time. My idea was this: twitter for friends and colleagues; Facebook for family and friends; Linked In for colleagues. Now, the lines are blurring a bit. Some say that’s not good, and I personally don’t like it, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it. I have *not* signed on for the subscribe feature… yet…. I’m not seeing the value to the greater social world. Who cares about my mundane life other than my friends and family? If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, then don’t worry about it. You don’t have to have subscribers and you most certainly don’t have to subscribe to anyone. Here are the details, if you’re interested. Keep in mind, it’s a Facebook help, not the best in the world. By default, you are “subscribed” to all your friends and they are to you, BUT no one else can subscribe to your posts UNLESS you Allow Subscribers. And, you can control what they can see… again, not sure why I would do this at this point in my life, but who knows. It’s a feature I might desire in the future.

Now, back to the subscribe with your friends. There is a feature to allow it so you can subscribe to a friends updates at different levels. Right now, most of your friends are set to Most Updates. There might be some friends you want to change to All Updates or Some Updates. So, it’s clear what All Update means, but what about Some and Most? What do those mean? This is not entirely clear, but it is clear you can select what type of updates you wish to have (life events — marriage, baby, etc as updated in your profile; status updates; photos; games — if you never want to see another farmville updates, uncheck this!!; comments and likes; other activities — not sure about this one). You can even unsubscribe entirely and you won’t see anything from this person, but you can remain friends with them (why you would do that is beyond me, but hey, it’s there for you to use). Now, rather than going to each friends page and making these changes, you can wait until they show up on your feed. Click on the down arrow to the right of the feed item and select your update frequency. If you want to dig deeper, click on their name and go to the profile page. It will take time if you have a lot of friends, but well worth it! I wish they had a quicker way (like a list of friends down one and a check box where you can turn things on and off, that’s more of a data entry thing).

So, that’s what I’ve learned in playing with it for a few hours… not bad and pretty easy to figure out!

I can tell you that more changes are on the way. Expect new features in Facebook in the coming months. To keep up with those changes, check out  the Facebook Blog and read up on what’s coming. They have a place where you can post your ideas and even a place to voice our concerns (others might provide you help you need to understand the modifications coming).

All in all, I think the changes are inevitable. Some say it’s because competitors have pushed it (isn’t that a good thing?!). This blog post does a great job of getting various thoughts on this new Facebook features. Frankly, I do believe in this world of cloud based systems like Google Apps, Facebook, Twitter, etc. we are all going to have to get used to change. So, I leave you with this quote on change:

“They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.” — Confucius

UPDATE September 25


I’ve got some recommendations for folks on getting your security settings going. I’d highly recommend you do this now before the new timeline feature takes hold, which is an entire new face on your Facebook page. More on that later, here is what I did to quickly get my friends in the right category and Facebook working for me.

First, you’ll want to categorize your friends as acquaintances or close friends. Basically, take those you want to keep in close touch with, know all about their changes in their life, put them in the close friends category. The rest, put them in acquaintances. You can always move friends in and out of these categories, but you need to start so you can see what will happen. The quickest way I found to categorize friends was to pull up the list and hover over the Friend button and then select Close Friend or Acquaintance (or other categories).

Second, you want to select what events you want to see and how often. Remember the All, Some and Most setting? Well, I just set all my friends to All Events and then toggled what I wanted to see. So, for some, it’s all things they post (I removed Games from everyone), but for others, it’s just life events (which will make more sense when the new Timeline is revealed). Now, as long as you did the first, you can change these lists at once. So, for example, click on the Close Friends list. Here you can turn notification on or off and also Manage the list (what do you want to see). Like I said, I’ve turned off Games for everyone (select Choose Update Types). I’ve kept the other ones one for Close Friends. For acquaintances, I’ve turned off quite a few items.

These steps will help you get prepared for the new timeline coming, which will rock your world. Basically, everything will change on how friends will see you on Facebook. Like, right now, when you click on the link with you name, you see the old profile, the new one will look like this:

 

Being in the Cloud.. You can take it with you!

This post is really musings… ramblings… please bear with me on this, it might make sense in the end.

Just the other day I had a wonderful conversation with a new client who left the workforce after her kids were born, just during the cusp of mainframe transitioning to the client server model (she’s a fellow techie. YAHOO, another female techie!!). Now, her kids have grown up (the youngest heading to college) and she looks across the IT vast land and sees something very similar to what she left.

The reality is, the cloud technology embraces both the mainframe model (centralization) and the client server model (de-centralization). It reminds me of the harmony between the muscular energy and organic energy in yoga. The balance between them makes a pose feel wonderful! Just like I’ve fallen in love with yoga, I’m falling back in love with technology. In particular, databases. So much more than Access or FileMaker Pro. It’s just wonderful!

So, as she and I were discussing the topic, an analogy came to me as we discussed the multi-tenant model of Salesforce.com (she was quite concerned about her data being mixed up with others AND security, remember, she comes from a very centralized place) So, I had her visualize an empty condo. The rooms are all laid out: outlets, cable hook up, washer and dryer hook ups, water, etc. The layout is all there for you. Now, all you need to do is add your furniture (data) and maybe a little design (paint on the walls, rearrange things slightly), but the basic floor plans remains. The condo association maintains the building, all you do is live in your space and call when there are problems (help desk or forums). You have your own secure space with a key and lock (password and encryption). You’re able to rearrange as you want and you can even change some fundamentals if you get condo association approval (adding your own code to customize and build out Salesforce). Then, when you want to move, you pack up your furniture (keep in mind, the paint stays on the wall, it’s temporary anyway, as does any build out) and you find a new condo (like moving from Salesforce.com to another cloud based or maybe internal database). It’s like that with Salesforce.com. Yes, you can take your data with you! You’re not stuck with them forever. Can you imagine? Changing software systems that simply? Yes, it takes time to get things in order, but hey, you are not beholden to any one company! What a wonderful and freeing feeling.

So, what we have now, is the ability to do our work using the best of all worlds. The client server model (yes, I can download my data, work off my servers at the office, etc) AND the mainframe model (having access to super fast machines, centralizing the hardware maintenance for the heavy lifting, etc). And, the cherry on top is that we can MOVE SYSTEMS. I can take my data anywhere I want. This is just wonderful and feeds my yogic mentality.

NOTE:  I have another post coming about moving from Google Apps to another Google Apps (different domain name) and the process that took. It was not easy, but it was do-able.

Database Principles — do they always apply?

During my yoga practice I try to keep an open mind. Being willing to throw out my traditional learning and try something new. Call it experimentation or being flexible or open minded. My database education began at Michigan State University (Go State!) and learning about relational database design (very traditional). Let’s just say that there are very specific principles to follow (normalization, uniqueness, keys, domains, etc.). This is my traditional learning. Something engrained in my psyche. Seriously .. engrained! But, hang on, this isn’t about database principles! I want to discuss the importance of these principles and understanding them for the nonprofit organizations that I’ve been teaching. Could it be that some of these principles don’t make sense for the needs of some organizations?

I tend to find myself wandering to the normalization portion of the principles because I find it much more challenging to explain to others. Just as with yoga, we tend to focus on the poses (exercise) although yoga’s basic principles are much more. Maybe it’s because the results are immediately. Anyway, it’s only natural to gravitate to something.

That being said, please bear with my fixation on normalization and listen to this musing… maybe there are times when normalization just doesn’t makes sense. What do you think? Could this be true?

Thinking about this further, I have found the Salesforce.com platform quite solidly built. A system built with all the database principles. Organizations build on top of this solid system. So, maybe the rules don’t matter. That being said, what is the big deal if they end up with three fields that say something like: Child 1, Child 2 and Child 3? Do they really need to normalize by creating a separate related table to hold each child’s name? I guess the question is, are they okay with recording only up to three children? What if they need more? Are we stuck? Actually, with Salesforce.com it’s not a problem. We just create another field. Yes, it’s really that simple…. I would ask more questions, but I do think my purist mindset has shifted! I still struggle with this shift. My mind wants to go back to normalizing since it’s my nature. But, the shift has begun as I now question myself when I start to normalize.

Another principle I’ve seen in action is related to duplicated data (uniqueness). I’ve seen some individuals at organization completely freak out about duplicated data, and that is good. This principle has been fully embraced, but I have been wondering about this principle too. Maybe we need a shift here too.

For example, what if we already have a contact in the database with their work information but we also interact with this individual at their house? The reality is that we have two separate communications to them. We want to snail mail to their house AND work with different information (think board member vs donor). So… maybe it makes sense to put their information into the database (dare I say it) TWICE. So, we duplicate their data…. BUT, the data isn’t really duplicated. This person is really TWO DIFFERENT PEOPLE (well, not really, they wear two different hats, but you get the picture). But, we want to know that they are the same person. How to do that? Well, Salesforce.com’s Nonprofit Starter Pack offers something called Relationships. So, you can create relationships between two contacts. There, all better, right?! What do you think?

So, it’s really not important to always normalize or de-dupe your data. It is important to understand the impact of your decision. In other words, how will I be able to report this information? Does this mean more updates of data? What do I need to do to import my data? Do I need to do anything special to my data to make this work?

Please note, I’m not suggesting we throw away our principles. Of course, we are building on top of a very well constructed database. One that is following the rules. I only suggest that while I try to blend my yoga and database education, maybe it makes sense to change the view a bit and rather than labeling something as a wrong, we just look at it again and see if it’s truly bad or will it fit the users’ requirements and make it easier for them to continue on their learning path.

So, with a yogi’s open mind, I welcome all discussion on this topic of database design. I am very interested in hearing from everyone and anyone on this as my learning will expand with your input and viewpoints.

Beginning again…

Being a yogi, we learn that we are constantly beginning again, thus, I begin again this blog. My musing will be focused on databases, yoga, women in technology and general thoughts about society.

So… with that, I bring you my first post for the year and hope to post on a regular basis (note, I didn’t give a time frame here, so I don’t box myself in…. ah the beauty of yoga).

Our lives have taken a sharp turn, and it’s wonderful. A new being in our lives fills us with joy and much work. I’ve decided to begin a new chapter as full-time parent and part-time database consultant. As you might know, my focus has been with Salesforce.com and working primarily with nonprofit organizations. My goal is to teach rather than do the work for the organization, thus building the organization’s capacity to continue to maintain and manage their own database. I would say that mostly it has been a success, by mostly I mean that sometimes I find myself going back to the place of “doing the work” rather than “teaching how to do” primarily because it’s easier for me and the person doing the work at the organization. I do catch myself, which is good, and put it back on them to finish it up.

It’s been at least two years since I have begun this work and there are a few things that keep popping up to me over and over again. These are some of those issues/things that have come up:

  1. Turn over of staff: This has probably been the most challenging issue to deal with in this teaching model. I have been of the mindset of teaching two staff at the organization (thus one is a back up for the other), but have found on a couple occasions that both individuals leave the organization, leaving a gaping hole! I’ve had one organization actually say to me that they wished I had built it for them and then they could just have come back to me. Oh well, I guess the point is that 2 in 20 isn’t bad. But turn over is an issue that I need to address somehow…. I’m still mulling this over. I’ll get back to you later on this one, but I’m open to any suggestions you might have.
  2. Understanding process: On more than one occasion, I have asked someone who works at the organization how they manage a process (whether it be intake of clients or managing events or accepting donations) and I get this blank stare and sigh. For example, when asking the person who manages events, “how do you do it?” I get the big sigh and then a stream of consciousness on how they do it. Nothing solid, a lot of ums, ahs and such. There process is called “by the seat of their pants”. This is always a sign of problems for success with a database, BUT, there is always a solution. When this happens, I usually have them diagram the process for me (usually a handwritten flow chart or steps) with a detailed explanation (where I can asks tons of questions). This does get us closer to understanding their “stream of babble”. And, in the process, they are helping their organization to document and clarify processes. I love this part of the design phase! It’s so… so… neat and tidy. I think database people like neat and tidy (although we often get curve balls, but that’s another story for another day).
  3. Focus: In this education model, I’ve found that many individuals wander into other territories. What started out as a volunteer database ends up being a volunteer, donor and client management database. Which isn’t a bad thing, in the long run, but NOT TO START. It’s important to focus in the beginning because of the learning and doing process. Since I am a yogi, this is an important learning for me and for my friends learning with me. I always try to bring them back to the focus and remind them that the other pieces will be waiting along the sides. But, to stay focused on this for now… until you are ready to move on. And, you’ll know when that time has come. But, during this beginning phase, focus.
  4. Time: As a young yogi, I always believe there is more time, but I forget about roadblocks that might come up (such as other work, a special event, illness, etc.) thus I ALWAYS underestimate the time it takes to get through the beginning stages of learning. I am learning. I am getting better at this. After all, it’s not a perfect science and we all (come on, you know you do this too) guesstimate the time.

So, these are some of the key things I have learned since beginning this journey in combining my yoga practice with database development. I am so excited to continue this path and hope you will join me on my journey!